Vail-area contractors, subcontractors are staying busy
July 15, 2015
VAIL — The crane isn't the official bird here any more, but there's plenty of building going on this year.
Permit numbers don't necessarily show it — this year's building permits are on track to equal those issued in 2014 — but there's a lot of activity virtually everywhere in town.
Along Interstate 70, work continues on the south side at The Lion, a condominium project that's replacing the old Lionshead Inn. On the north side, siding is up on some of the new Lion's Ridge apartments, a replacement for the units on the eastern half of the Timber Ridge.
There are big homes being built in Vail's slopeside neighborhoods, as well as numerous re-builds and remodels elsewhere.
Meanwhile, it seems it's been some time since this many construction vehicles were running up and down the interstate.
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But back to the numbers. Vail Community Development Department Director George Ruther just ran the department's numbers through the first two quarters of 2015, and the news is good, if not earth-shattering. The number of applications and fees submitted to the Vail Design Review Board is just about half of what was submitted through all of 2014.
There were 303 building permits issued through the first six months of 2015, compared to 717 in all of 2014. The big difference is in the town's valuation of those permits. Through the first half of 2015, the value of all projects is $55.1 million. The 2014 12-month total was $219.3 million.
But, Ruther said, the 2014 numbers include The Lion. Still, the 2015 numbers will soon include the first permit values from Vail Valley Medical Center's west wing expansion and renovation. The number for this year won't approach the permit value at The Lion, but it's going to be "many millions" of dollars.
STILL PEAKS AND VALLEYS
All this should be good news for the local construction industry. But Chris Evans, a co-owner of Evans Chaffee Construction Company, said the appearances of an extra-busy year are somewhat deceiving.
"What you're seeing is a few large projects that are very visual," Evans said, adding that his company's business is still seeing a "lot of peaks and valleys."
Still, Evans said, there's a lot of work of varying sizes being done right now.
On the other hand, a few big projects are on hold. A redevelopment of the old Roost Lodge property has been delayed for an indefinite time. Vail Mayor Andy Daly has said that project delay has been caused by sudden increases in construction costs.
Evans said much of that price escalation has been caused by increasing prices from subcontractors — drywall companies, plumbers, electricians and other trades.
"The (subcontractors) are very busy, to the point where a lot of them aren't bidding work," Evans said. "As a result, prices are going up."
Evans added that many subcontractors come from the Denver area, where construction activity is running at near-boom levels. Add in the fact that the local workforce contracted after during the hardest days of the economic slump that began here in 2009, and it can be hard to find people to do needed work.
'QUITE A BIT BUSIER'
Dave Young is the owner of R&H Mechanical, a plumbing and heating business that's one of the valley's biggest subcontractors.
Young said his company's been "quite a bit busier" in 2015 than 2014 and is working on projects up and down the Vail Valley.
"This year should be one of our better years," Young said.
But, he added, the always-tough job of finding good people to hire is even tougher these days.
"We've got to advertise out of state," Young said.
Still, Young said, his company is still bidding on projects of just about any size. A company with just more than 70 employees always needs to be looking for work, he said.
And, Young said, he expects good business for the immediate future.
"We're having a good year and should continue to be fairly good into next year," he said.
Despite the current numbers, Ruther said his department is as busy as it has been in some time. That department once employed 22 people. After the slump, the staff has shrunk to 13. Two of those people are holding new positions in housing and environmental sustainability.
Ruther said his department's staffing could change as soon as Vail's next budget year.
"Because of volume, we're looking at opportunities to fill some of those vacant positions we created in 2008," he said.
QUALITY OVER QUANTITY
None of this means the valley is going to be back in the fever-pitch days of 2007 and 2008.
"I wouldn't want to see the valley back to the point we were then," Evans said. "A lot of people were hiring warm bodies. I'd rather see us be a little slower, with better quality work."
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, firstname.lastname@example.org and @scottnmiller.